Unveiling Krakow’s Oldest Restaurants – Feasting on Tradition

Alright, let me set the record straight here. When we talk about the oldest restaurants in Krakow, Poland, it’s easy to think about the „Wierzynek” restaurant. It’s a well-known spot that’s been serving folks for about sixty-something years. But, I think it’s essential to highlight that Krakow’s dining scene has roots that run much, much deeper. Restaurants like „Pod różą” „Pollera” „Grand” and „Hawełka” have been around for over a century.

Wierzynek Restaurant

Back in 1947, a man named Kazimierz Książek had an idea. He decided to open a restaurant in a tenement house at No. 16 on the Main Market Square. A local Krakow expert, Jerzy Dobrzycki, had a suggestion – why not call the place „Wierzynek’s”? It was believed that this location was the site of a historical feast. However, in 1951, like many establishments of that time, it was nationalized due to the political landscape.

Souvenirs in Wierzynek Restaurant

Fast forward to 1975-1979, and some big changes were afoot. The Wierzynek tenement house, along with the neighboring Pinocci and Hetmańska tenement houses, underwent a major renovation. They were combined into a single property that now hosts the grand „Wierzynek” restaurant. Walking into this place is like stepping into history. You’ll find several historic rooms, including the Wierzynkowska, Column, Tatra, Clock, Portrait, and Knights rooms, as well as a banquet hall named Pompeian.

More Than Just a Meal at Wierzynek

It’s worth noting that dining at Wierzynek is not just about the food, but the overall experience. Sure, the prices may be higher than what you’re used to, but let’s break it down. At Wierzynek, you’re paying for the atmosphere of a historic place. You’re surrounded by stylish interiors and the most breathtaking views in Krakow from the restaurant windows.

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Wierzynek Restaurant – Rynek Główny 16

You’re also paying for quality – heated plates, silver-plated cutlery, and professional service (which is a rarity these days, I can tell). Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, you’re paying for the exquisitely prepared dishes that grace your table.

If you want a taste of luxury, try the morel and pigeon soup for PLN 38. Despite its price tag, it seems the local pigeon population hasn’t suffered one bit, as a large flock of these fancy birds still frequents the Market Square.

Restaurant of the „Francuski” Hotel

Dining Room in Restaurant of the „Francuski” Hotel

Let me take you on a journey back to another of Krakow’s gems, the restaurant at the „Francuski” hotel. This place has been in service for nearly a hundred years, outdating Wierzynek by a solid thirty-five years!

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A Timeless Relic

In 1912, Aleksander Rittermann had a vision. He replaced a one-story tenement house on the corner of Św. Jana and Pijarska street with the most state-of-the-art four-story hotel in not just Krakow, but all of former Galicia. The ground floor featured a cafe and a restaurant, where food was silently delivered from the kitchen on the fourth floor using an elevator. And believe it or not, the staff there were multilingual, capable of conversing in eight languages.

The hotel was ahead of its time, fitted with electricty, a telephone switchboard, and even central heating. The rooms had hot and cold water – quite the luxury for that era. Outside the hotel, a convertible car stood at the ready, waiting to shuttle guests from the train station.

There were electric wake-up clocks in the rooms, and each floor had pneumatic mailboxes. If you dropped a letter in, it would swiftly land at the reception desk, from where a messenger would promptly deliver it to the post office or directly to the recipient if they lived in Krakow.

Bar in Restaurant of the „Francuski” Hotel

Despite the grandeur of the restaurant in the „Francuski” hotel, it didn’t gain much traction among the locals and catered mostly to hotel guests. It was only post-World War II, during the People’s Poland era, that it became more popular due to the reasonable price differences and its scrumptious cuisine.

A Glimpse of the Past

The restaurant’s night bar, where Jan Boba’s jazz band played in the 1960s, was a particular hit. Entry was granted to selected guests by a porter affectionately known as „Aznavour” because of his striking resemblance to the famous French singer.

But times change, and later, the four-star restaurant – serving both Polish and French cuisine – returned to primarily serving hotel guests. It wasn’t as popular among the locals following a 1991 modernization.

Things took a turn in 2012, when „Orbis” sold the hotel to a private investor. The investor then leased it, along with the restaurant, to Adam Gessler, a renowned Warsaw restaurateur. Gessler, known for his flair and mastery of Polish cuisine, ran the restaurant with a style that harked back to the pre-war times of Krakow’s gastronomy. But alas, things didn’t go as planned, and Gessler’s venture in the „Francuski” hotel ended in bankruptcy.

Grand Hotel Restaurant

Let’s make another stop on this epicurean journey, this time at the Grand Hotel Restaurant located at the junction of Sławkowska and św. Tomasza. This gem, just over a century old, is a little older than the restaurant in the „Francuski” hotel. This esteemed establishment is home to the renowned Hall of Mirrors, a testament to its majestic past.

The hotel came to be when Eustachy Jaxa Chronowski decided to transform a collection of buildings occupying the quarter between Sławkowska, św. Thomas, and St. Jana Streets into a grand hotel. It had everything: a well-loved restaurant, a pastry shop, a cafe, a billiard room, and even its own power plant.

The kitchen was headed by the renowned Parisian chef Maurice. Such was the grandeur of this hotel that it quickly found its place on Cook’s prestigious list of recommended destinations.

Historical Pictures of Grand Hotel in Kraków

Before it became a part of the hotel, the corner building housed the palace of Prince Aleksander Czartoryski. His wife, Princess Marcelina Czartoryska née Radziwiłł, a talented pianist and student of Chopin himself, held lively gatherings for the Krakow elite here. The palace was initially leased by Eustachy Chronowski and later purchased from Prince Czartoryski in 1895.

The „Grand Hotel” is not short of historical grandeur. In 1424, the famous knight Zawisza Czarny from Garbów hosted a grand feast in another building that later became part of the hotel. Ths event was attended by none other than King Władysław Jagiełło and Queen Zofia of Holszańska, amongst other royal figures and dignitaries.

Scandal and Legacy

In January 1932, a scandal rocked the „Grand Hotel” when it was reported that Maria Ciunkiewiczowa, a resident of the hotel, had her valuables stolen. Her loss was colossal: 6,500 pounds sterling, 10,000 French francs, several pieces of jewelry, and numerous furs. Despite initial skepticism from the media and authorities about the authenticity of the theft, the ensuing investigation revealed a case of staged theft. After a two-year-long trial, Ciunkiewiczowa was sentenced to 15 months in prison for insurance fraud.

The restaurant at the „Grand Hotel” is immortalized in literature, thanks to Tadeusz Kurtyka, a skilled waiter who published a well-known environmental novel „Zaklęte rewiry” under the pseudonym Henryk Worcell. This work, set entirely in the „Grand„, was adapted into a film shot in the restaurant’s beautiful halls in 1976, featuring the renowned actor Marek Kondrat.

In 1927, Jan Bisanz, leased the entire hotel and restaurant. He remodeled the ground floor rooms (designed by Franciszek Mączyński) into an exclusive cafe that was the first in Krakow to have fans installed. Bisanz was a key player in the interwar cafe and restaurant scene in Krakow. His prosperous empire even included a large pig farm in Wola Justowska to ensure a steady supply of fresh meat.

Unfortunately, Bisanz's luck ran out during the Nazi occupation. He took German citizenship, and his premises were declared "nur für Deutsche". Following Krakow's liberation, Bisanz was arrested as a "traitor of the Polish nation". His property was seized, and he died in March 1945, in Krakow's St. Michał, as a result of a hunger strike.

Modern-Day Grandeur

A major renovation of the hotel took place a little over a decade ago, elevating it to the status of a five-star hotel. Regrettably, this change diminished the popularity of the restaurant, which, though still beautiful and brimming with history, now more closely resembles a „museum” rather than the bustling hub it once was.

However, not all old traditions have been forsaken. A small group of Jagiellonian University’s most seasoned professors, led by Prof. Aleksander Krawczuk, still gather here from time to time. Their meetings breathe life into the establishment, honoring its rich past and keeping the spirit of the old days alive.

The „Grand Hotel Restaurant” has truly witnessed the ebb and flow of time, hosting grand celebrations, enduring scandals, and even starring in literature and film. It stands today as a testament to Krakow’s storied history, inviting guests to partake in a unique dining experience that is more than just food and drink—it’s a taste of history itself.

Despite the change in its clientele, this restaurant remains a significant part of Krakow’s gastronomic landscape, reminding us of a time when dining was not merely a necessity but a grand celebration.

Hawełka Restaurant

A quarter-century before the „Grand Hotel” opened its doors, another renowned restaurant, „Hawełka,” laid down its roots in Krakow. In 1876, Antoni Hawełka, a clerk of Czech descent from Kęty, set up a colonial shop known as „Pod Palmą” on the ground floor of the „Krzysztofory” palace in the Main Square.

With his exceptional acumen and tenacity, Hawełka quickly won over Krakow. His shop, importing high-quality southern fruits, foreign wines, branded beer, fresh venison, and other gourmet colonial goods, soon won the patronage of the Galician aristocracy and even the Viennese court—an achievement he proudly advertised.

However, Hawełka’s ingenuity didn’t stop there. He opened a „handelek,” a term exclusive to Krakow that loosely translates to a „breakfast place„, at the back of the shop. Although „breakfast place” may sound like a misnomer given that it offered a generous selection of drinks and snacks until dinner time, it was, in essence, what we’d call a bar today. This establishment, known for introducing novelties like the famous „pyramid sandwiches„, soon gained popularity.

Upon Hawełka’s death in 1894, Franciszek Macharski, his oldest clerk, inherited the business. Within ten years, Macharski amassed enough wealth to purchase the adjacent „Spisz” palace (Rynek Główny 34), where he relocated „Under Palma”. Here, he opened a spacious restaurant featuring a beautiful room on the first floor, adorned with paintings by Włodzimierz Tetmajer.

Hawełka Restaurant in Kraków

Elegant and well-connected, Macharski was a familiar figure in Krakow’s social landscape, a fact underscored by a French newspaper’s humorous error—confusing Hawełka with the Cardinal of Krakow in a 1903 report on the Cardinal’s protest against the election of Cardinal Rampolla as Pope.

In the interwar period, Józef Lubelski, president of the Association of Restaurateurs and co-owner of the „Bagatela” theatre, leased the entire „Hawełka” restaurant. His robust presence and unwavering confidence earned him the nickname „the king of bigos”.

Soon, „Hawełka” joined the list of Krakow’s most popular gathering spots, where locals and tourists alike sought the gastronomical pleasures that the city had to offer. It even hosted traditional pre-Easter herring feasts and ended the Lajkonik procession with a „beer bomb”.

Indeed, Hawełka was so integral to the Krakow experience that a popular saying emerged: „To be in Krakow and not visit Hawełka is like being in Rome and not seeing the Pope”.

This testimony to Hawełka’s enduring appeal encapsulates the restaurant’s contribution to Krakow’s culinary and cultural scene. Even as the city continues to evolve, Hawełka remains an irreplaceable part of its gastronomic tradition.

Wentzl Restaurant

Late in the 19th century, Konrad Wentzl opened a restaurant in the „Pod Obrazem” tenement house at 19 Rynek Główny, which rapidly became one of Krakow’s favoured destinations. The Wentzl family had been well-known merchants in the city since 1749, with Jan Wentzl initially running a consignment house before later opening a vast warehouse for hardware and spices in the „Krzysztoforów” building—a truly eclectic mix of wares.

In 1826, following a family division, he received the „Under the Picture” tenement house and shifted his iron and spice trade there. Over time, the Wentzels discontinued the iron business to focus solely on spices and wine.

Around 1880, Konrad Wentzl initiated a „breakfast place” adjacent to the shop, which gained so much popularity that his son Jan Maciej, forgoing the trading business, converted the entire ground floor into a restaurant. The restaurant was simply named „U Wentzla” and occasionally referred to as „Under the Mother of God„, referencing a large painting of the Virgin Mary displayed on the building’s façade since 1718, from which the „Under the Picture” moniker derived.

Meal in Wentzl Restaurant – Kraków

In 1937, the Archduke Brewery in Żywiec took over the restaurant premises. Post World War II, city authorities transformed it into a mass catering venue, then a „Centralna” restaurant, and between 1976 and 1983, the first-class restaurant „U Wentzla” specialising in Polish cuisine. However, it never regained its original charm and splendour.

Subsequent renovations saw the „Pod Obrazem” tenement house morph into the luxurious „Wentzl” hotel, featuring an exquisite French restaurant and a wide array of the finest wines on the first floor.

Despite these changes, some inconsistencies surfaced, such as the misleading signboard and advertising leaflet claim: „Wentzl – restaurant since 1792″—a fabrication akin to the French press reporting that Hawełka was a Krakow cardinal.

In 2012, well-known Warsaw restaurateur and TV celebrity, Magda Gessler, took over the restaurant, turning it into an Italian cuisine outlet. This change contradicted the long-standing Wentzl tradition, but Gessler made a savvy move to satisfy all tastes by introducing „Polish cuisine” on the building’s first floor. The evolution of Wentzl, from a spice and wine trading hub to a gastronomic point of convergence, beautifully exemplifies the dynamics and resilience of Krakow’s culinary culture.

Restaurant in Pollera Hotel

The „Pollera” hotel restaurant, situated at ul. Szpitalna 30, holds the distinction of being one of the oldest restaurants in Krakow. This establishment’s history precedes Kacper Poller’s founding of an inn within its walls in 1834. Indeed, another inn had already occupied the premises a decade earlier.

Austrian soldier Kacper Poller’s connection to Krakow was a result of an unusual twist of fate. In 1809, he was stationed as a guard in a guardhouse on the Main Market Square, and when Austrian troops hastily retreated before Prince Józef Poniatowski’s advancing army, Poller was inadvertently left behind. When he finally left his post, his comrades were long gone. Years later, when Austria regained control of Krakow, Poller was accused of desertion but defended himself by declaring, „While I was on guard, you were running away (…) so who is the deserter here after all?”.

Initially, Poller opened a diner called „Under the Cross” at ul. Szpitalna 21 (the location of today’s Theater Museum). In 1834, he purchased the inn across the street (No. 30) and renamed it „Pod Złotą Kotwicą„. The inn had its unique charm, epitomised by a tame raven that greeted guests with boisterous if somewhat unintelligible chatter.

Local legend tells of the bird’s loyalty to Poller, when a guest took the raven to Wrocław, the bird (whose wings were clipped) returned to Krakow after a week, its journey marked by a single broken claw.

Poller’s business thrived, allowing him to purchase a neighbouring tenement in 1845 to expand the hotel. After his death in 1861, his son Adolf bought yet another property. The inn, adorned with elegant Biedermeier furniture and comfortable three-room apartments, created a homely atmosphere more akin to a proper Burgerhaus than a conventional hotel.

Restaurant in Pollera Hotel – „Mirror” Dining Room

Over the years, the „Pod Złotą Kotwicą” hotel hosted many distinguished guests, including Henryk Sienkiewicz at the height of his popularity and renowned dramatic actress Helena Modrzejewska, likely due to the hotel’s proximity to the Municipal Theater.

Following Adolf Poller’s death, his wife Wanda ran the hotel, making a significant expansion in 1910 that included a large banquet hall. Wanda lived until the age of 101, passing away in 1945.

From 1880, J. Ząbik managed the restaurant, and after 1900, a certain Mrozowski took over, later partnering with the dismissed Cracow starost, Dr. Władysław Wnęk, who insisted on being addressed as „Mr. Starosta” while serving beer.

Restaurant in Pollera Hotel – Bar

The post-WWII communist authorities nationalized the restaurant and hotel, destroying the stylish Biedermeier interior in the process. Beds, decorative chandeliers, and Venetian mirrors were discarded onto the pavement in a drastic effort to sever ties with „bourgeois traditions”.

The rooms of the „modernized” hotel were filled with sofa beds and crude fibreboard furniture, reflecting the prevailing trends of the time. After Poland’s political transformation, the Poller family regained control of their hotel, investing significant effort and expense to partially restore its old decor. The Pollera’s enduring legacy, however, underscores its integral place in the cultural and culinary fabric of Krakow.

In the years following the return of the hotel to the Poller family, they set about recapturing the unique ambiance that had made the „Pod Złotą Kotwicą” hotel so exceptional. With painstaking attention to detail, the premises were lovingly refurbished, reflecting the hotel’s storied past. From the installation of vintage chandeliers to the acquisition of period furniture, every element was thoughtfully considered to reinstate a sense of history and charm.

The restaurant, however, had its share of challenges. Post-war changes had transformed it from a popular local haunt into a symbol of government-controlled mass catering. The Poller family were determined to recapture its past glory and worked diligently to restore it. A new menu was introduced, inspired by traditional Polish cuisine but interpreted with a modern flair. The establishment worked tirelessly to source high-quality local ingredients, echoing Kacper Poller’s dedication to serving his patrons only the best.

Still, as any local will attest, the Pollera is more than just a restaurant or a hotel. It’s a living testament to Krakow’s resilience, its capacity to reinvent and restore, and its commitment to preserving its history. It’s a narrative thread that weaves through the city’s past, telling tales of gallant soldiers, theatrical divas, and loyal ravens.

Restaurant at „Pod Różą” Hotel

„Pod Różą” stands as an embodiment of the captivating evolution of Krakow’s hospitality scene. The name, translating to „Under the Rose,” resonates with the distinctive charm and heritage that has colored its existence. Nestled amidst the labyrinthine streets of Krakow’s Old Town, this grand edifice echoes with stories that traverse across centuries.

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Jan Apolinary Szydłowski, the visionary who first laid the foundation of the inn, might have scarcely imagined the legacy he was cementing. From an overnight halt of Tsar Alexander I Romanov to the presence of Honorius Balzac, the „Pod Różą” hotel had already begun etching its historical importance as early as the 19th century. It was a beacon of high-quality hospitality, its reputation radiating far beyond the borders of the city, drawing in illustrious guests from around the continent.

As decades rolled by, the „Pod Różą” hotel embraced change with grace. The shift from the „hotel de Russie” to its more neutral identity was not merely a name change, but a reflection of the changing political landscape of the time. Despite the upheavals, the hotel’s culinary excellence remained a constant, nourishing the spirits of Krakow’s inhabitants and visitors alike.

Restaurant in „Pod Różą” Hotel

The reign of Ferdynand Turliński, known as „Turla„, injected a new zest into the establishment’s identity, making it the culinary hub of the artistic bohemia. While the hotel might not have been the most sought-after destination for Krakow’s nightlife, its allure laid in its peaceful ambiance, masterfully crafted dishes, and historical grandeur.

The second half of the 20th century brought forth another evolution for „Pod Różą”. The artistic vein of the place was revived with Marek Grechuta establishing an artistic cellar, continuing its tradition of being an abode for the creative spirits. The occasional spillover of the cabaret scene further added to its diverse cultural tapestry.

Restaurant in „Pod Różą” Hotel

Yet, amidst its vibrant evolution, „Pod Różą” also houses a piece of unintentional misinformation – the long-standing belief that Honorius Balzac resided at ul. Floriańska. Despite evidence pointing otherwise, the inscription remained, becoming a quirky anecdote in the grand narrative of the hotel.

By the 1990s, „Pod Różą” had once again reinvented itself, expanding its dining spaces with the addition of two new restaurants. The original yard, adorned with Renaissance portals and previously used for guest carriages, was transformed into a unique dining area, enhancing the hotel’s charming ambiance. As one looks upon the glass-covered yard today, it’s easy to visualize a nostalgic „ball of balls” happening there, much like the grand social gatherings of a bygone era.

The „Pod Różą” hotel restaurant remains a steadfast testament to Krakow’s culinary heritage and hospitality traditions. Its story weaves through centuries, embodying the rich tapestry of the city’s history. From being a humble inn to a destination that holds a remarkable place in the annals of Krakow, the „Pod Różą” story continues to unfold, enchanting everyone who steps through its splendid Renaissance portal.


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